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Children and young people’s experiences of domestic violence and abuse are diverse and complex and need a tailored response from professionals, according to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care.

The VOICES study, funded by the SPCR, is the first large-scale systematic review of research that draws solely on children’s perspectives.

It reveals not only the serious impacts of domestic violence and abuse on children’s wellbeing but also the coping strategies children use and hopes they have for the future.

The researchers analysed data from 33 previously published qualitative studies of children and young people aged between three and 25.

They found that the nature and severity of the violence experienced varied from hearing arguments to witnessing extreme acts of violence, in some cases ending in the death of a parent or carer.

Family and the wider social context were found to impact on how children experienced domestic violence. For some, living in already troubled families or neighbourhoods, domestic violence was just one aspect of violence in their daily experiences and identity.

Children were found to cope with violence while it was happening using a diverse array of tactics and many, especially older siblings, actively attempted to protect others, such as siblings and mothers as well as animals.

Impacts included profound feelings of fear, anxiety and emotional pain, lack of sleep and hypervigilance, and a desire for normality.

Dr Alison Gregory, Research Fellow (Traumatised and Vulnerable Populations) at the Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol who co-led the research, said: “We know that domestic violence and abuse can damage children’s health and wellbeing. This study shows what it is like to experience domestic violence and abuse from the perspective of children themselves.

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